What is colorism, and how do we combat it? Who decides what is beautiful? Why are girls raised to compete with each other? Playwright Jocelyn Bioh and experts Afia Ofori-Mensa of Princeton University and Maryann Jacob Macias of National Crittenton join host Ruthie Fierberg to explore the questions raised about the roots of colorism and how to check your own bias, beauty standards and how to advocate for broader definitions of beauty, self-esteem and how to raise girls and women to know our own self-worth in this episode tied to Off-Broadway’s Lortel-winning and Drama Desk-nominated comedy SCHOOL GIRLS; OR, THE AFRICAN MEAN GIRLS PLAY.
When SCHOOL GIRLS; OR, THE AFRICAN MEAN GIRLS PLAY first hit the stage at MCC Theater in 2017, we witnessed the birth of a new powerhouse voice in the theatre with playwright Jocelyn Bioh. Set in Ghana in 1986, SCHOOL GIRLS is “the African Mean Girls Play” for a reason. It’s got all the comedy and all of the hallway politics of Tina Fey’s MEAN GIRLS. As the five of girls of the in-crowd—led by beauty Paulina—prepare for the Miss Ghana pageant recruiter to scout at their boarding school, things get ugly. The arrival of bi-racial transfer student Ericka (a light-skinned girl who grew up in the States but whose father is Ghanaian) throws a wrench in Paulina’s plans. The recruiter, Eloise, must think about who (and what type of beauty) could elevate Ghana to the worldwide stage in the Miss Universe pageant.
Listen for some real talk and actionable steps to create a world with more acceptance and support—because that’s WHY WE THEATER.
Referred to in this episode:
- TikTok ‘tried to filter out videos from ugly, poor or disabled users’
- Peggy Orenstein, watch her TED Talk tied to her book Girls & Sex
- The work of Dr. Susan Bordo
Create the Change:
- Write letters to the publisher.
- Send letters, emails, tweets (as someone who worked for a magazine, yes we really do read it all) either to praise the diversity of people you see in their pages—editorial and advertising—or to point out the lack thereof and demand a change. Letters to the editor will also work.
- Put your money where your mouth is.
- Buy make-up from brands with a wide spectrum of shades—even if your shade is lighter.
- Buy from brands that support your ideals—and let your friends know who these businesses are so they can join you.
- Broaden the idea of the protagonist
- Read, borrow, and purchase books with protagonists of color. Expand your horizons while showing that the readership for these stories is wide. As this writer observes: Black Books Are for White Children, Too. Here are some lists to get you started: 10 Books With South Asian Characters You Should Read in 2020; Multicultural Book Recommendation for World Travel From the Safety of Home.
- Lift up women in front of other women.
- Compliment girls for things they’ve done, not how they look.
Our theme music is by Benjamin Velez. Hear more at BenjaminVelez.com.
Our logo is by Christina Minopoli. See more at MinopoliDesign.com.
Special thanks to Dori Berinstein, Leigh Silverman, Patrick Taylor, Tony Montinieri, Elena Mayer, Wesley Birdsall, and Suzanne Chipkin.
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